HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Chinese Football Association vice president said hosting a future World Cup would be “a dream” for China, but declined to say when the nation would bid to organise football’s showcase event.
Zhang Jian was elected to the FIFA Council - the global soccer governing body’s main decision-making entity - at the Asian Football Confederation’s congress in Bahrain earlier this month, underlining China’s growing influence in the sport.
With Chinese President Xi Jinping having already declared his desire to see the country qualify for, host and win the World Cup, speculation has been mounting that the nation would make a move to organise the tournament in 2030 or 2034. But Zhang was quick to dispel suggestions a decision has been made by the Chinese authorities.
“To host the World Cup in China is our dream, so many Chinese people, Chinese football fans’ dream, but which World Cup we will bid for we didn’t decide officially,” Zhang said in a BBC World Service interview.
“We should decide it by official procedure. For me I think it should come to China sooner but we need some time to prepare and we need time to popularise our football and enhance our football level,” he said.
“According to FIFA statutes we need to meet some other requirements, so I have no concrete time now.”
Football in China has undergone significant growth since President Xi took the nation’s helm in 2013, with clubs spending huge sums to lure some of the world’s best players to the Chinese Super League (CSL).
Shanghai SIPG have broken the Asian transfer record twice in the last year, signing Hulk from Zenit St Petersburg for 55 million euros ($61.61 million) before spending another 60 million euros to lure Oscar from Chelsea in the winter.
With Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and others enticed by large salaries, Chinese clubs are now being linked with some of the biggest names in the game as a transfer battle with European clubs threatens to develop.
However, the CFA announced on Wednesday new measures designed to cool the player market, with clubs already carrying debt forced to pay a sum equal to fees paid for foreign signings into a fund to develop Chinese players.
New rules will also be implemented in next year’s CSL that will see clubs forced to field the same number of players under the age of 23 as they do foreigners in their starting line-ups.
“To be frank, it’s a good thing and a bad thing,” said Zhang, who was interviewed before the latest regulations were announced, of the money pouring into Chinese football.
“We should have a good balance for it. We are discussing it and we have made some decisions to take some action. But generally I think it’s a good thing,” Zhang said.
”The good thing is that we can make the market very active and we can attract so many people, especially so many young people to play football. I think it’s very good to encourage young men to love football and participate in football.
“But on the other hand the bad thing is that we should have a good balance between the investment and the outcome so sometimes we need some order, we should keep good order and we are adjusting our policies and we are not taking absolute measures to stop it,” he continued.
“We should be calm and should slow down our growth and keep good order to keep the potential and don’t break the market, don’t break the order. This is the important thing. We need order. Sometimes order is much more important.”
Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; editing by Mark Heinrich